Ben Heller on Reaching The Show in Pinstripes

Ben Heller was called up to the big leagues for the first time yesterday. He arrived as a member of the Yankees, having been acquired by New York from Cleveland at the trade deadline as part of the Andrew Miller deal. As luck would have it, the 25-year-old right-hander’s first MLB venue was Fenway Park.

His debut will come elsewhere — the Bombers left Boston without him appearing in the game — and when it does, you can expect to see heat. Heller throws hard. Baseball America rated his fastball tops in the Indians system, and opposing hitters have certainly taken notice. In 45 relief innings this season, Heller has allowed 24 hits and fanned 52 in 45 innings at the Double-A and Triple-A levels.

Heller talked about his game, and the excitement of putting on a big-league uniform for the first time, shortly before taking the field at Fenway.


Heller on his repertoire: “I’m your typical back-end power pitcher. I’m primarily fastball-slider. I’ve been mixing in a split-change recently, although it’s still kind of a work-in-progress. I’m still learning when and where to throw that.

“My fastball is definitely my best pitch. It’s mid- to upper-90s, usually with a good amount of arm-side run to it. It’s a four-seam fastball that just kind of naturally takes off.

“My breaking ball is… I call it a slider, but it’s really more of a slurve. It’s usually 84-85 and it has some downward break as well as lateral break. Initially, I wanted a hard, tight slider — I tried for pretty much a full season to try to get it like that — but it didn’t feel comfortable and I didn’t have the command. I started throwing it the way it felt comfortable, and got a lot of swings-and-misses and weak contact with it, so I kind of just took it and ran with it.

“My split-change is something I’ve actually had since college, but I kind of scrapped it my first few years of pro ball, when I was mainly working on my slider and improving my command. Once that stuff came along, I pulled my changeup back out. I decided it would be a worthwhile pitch to at least give hitters something extra to think about.”

On adrenaline and Fenway Park: “There’s going to be a lot of adrenaline for the debut, for sure. But even on a game-to-game basis, I like to go in there pretty amped up. At the same time, I like to be very under control. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. I like to have that adrenaline to get that little extra velo, but I have to stay within myself and keep my delivery compact and under control.

“I’ve been to Fenway Park as a fan. In 2012, I came on a trip to both here and Yankee Stadium. This is surreal, to be honest with you. If you’d have told me a month ago that I’d be pitching for the New York Yankees at Fenway Park, I probably wouldn’t have believed it.

“I’d come out to Boston to work out with a baseball trainer named Eric Cressey. He’s a genius. I primarily worked with a guy who interned with him, Brooks Braga, who is now based out of my home state of Wisconsin. But it was all the same philosophy and I feel what I did there helped me out a ton with my development.”

On the trade, facial hair and data: “I haven’t seen a whole lot of difference (between the Indians and Yankees organizations) based on what I’ve experienced so far. Being on the big-league side now, I’m sure that I’ll see some new things. But on the minor-league side, it seems like every coach wanted to do everything he could to help each player develop and get to the big leagues. It was the same way when I was in Cleveland.

“The clean-shaven thing is new for me. Last year, the Indians started allowing facial hair — they hadn’t before — and I was kind of enjoying having a beard. My wife thinks I look better clean-shaven though. There is a positive to this.

“The Indians made (data) available to us. I’d occasionally check out some of the TrackMan stuff, like my spin rate, but I’m not a huge junkie like that. I couldn’t tell you my exact numbers. I mostly want to know how I can make my pitches be the most effective against hitters. I want to learn how I can best use each pitch to set up the next pitch.

“As far as the trade… yeah. I mean, we had heard all the rumors about the Indians maybe being in the mix for Andrew Miller. But I never thought I could be included in that trade. It was definitely shocking. Once it kind of settled in, it hit me that I could be playing for the New York Yankees. Sure enough, it’s happening. Being here right now is a really incredible feeling.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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